Friday, August 25, 2017

You Want to Write Fiction. So Where Do You Start?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy
This week's Refresher Friday takes a heavily updated look at places to start when you're just starting out as a writer. Enjoy!

It's probably no surprise to anyone visiting this site that a lot of people want to write fiction. Some know exactly where to start and even have detailed story ideas in their heads, but others are a bit lost as to where to begin. With all the information about writing out there, it can be pretty overwhelming (and confusing) for someone who wants to write, but hasn't taken those first steps on their writing journey yet. If you want to write, what do you do?

That first step is easy. Just start writing.

I know, it sounds too simplistic, but to be a writer you have to write. If you want to learn, you have to write. If you want to improve, you have to write. It's at the core of being a writer, and even though it can be scary to write that first line, thousands of writers do it every day. Thousands are even doing it right now as you read this. 

All you have to do to start, is to get into the habit of writing. Don't worry if it's any good or not, because none of that matter in the beginning. You want to get used to using dialogue and description, writing out how characters act and move. You want to practice crafting a scene or chapter to use as your training chapter (or short story if you prefer to start there). It's okay to stay small until you feel comfortable, because trying to write a whole novel can be overwhelming. But a small piece is more manageable and you can see your progress a lot easier.

Once you get comfortable with writing in general, then it's time to work on the fundamentals until you understand how they work together. You might even have one scene or chapter per technique to practice with. For example, you might write a training chapter on dialogue and spend time on just the dialogue in that chapter until you're comfortable with writing it. You might choose another technique such as writing different points of view or crafting clear stage direction. The beauty of a training chapter is that it takes the pressure off you, because it's just to practice on.

Here are some other things you can try:

1. Write down your story idea. 

Pretend you're telling your story to a friend. Don't worry about proper formatting or anything at this point, just practice writing down a story. This will help you get a feel for how stories unfold and how you might start piecing together elements of that story. It'll also start developing those brainstorming muscles, and give you insights as to the kind of writer you might be.

2. Put a scene on paper. 

Pick a scene that excites you and write it out. Again, it doesn't have to go anywhere, just try to get the feel for the flow of the words and how one sentence leads to another. Explore how a scene might begin and end, and think about how you might use this scene to take your story further. Where might this lead? How would you get to another scene in your story?

(Here's more on the fundamentals of a scene)

3. Introduce a character.  

You probably have a character in mind already, so how would you introduce him or her in your story? Think about what this person might be doing, or how they'd act, or what problem they'd be dealing with the first time readers meet them. What are the things you'd want readers to know right away about this person?

(Here's more on introducing a character)

4. Write how your story opens. 

Opening scenes are good places to start since that is where the story begins. What's the first thing that happens? Who's the first character seen? Think about the critical elements of your story, characters, and world and what needs to be known first. Think about ways to hook readers and make them want to read this story.

(Here's more on writing opening scenes)

Sometimes when we're just starting out, it's hard to come up with ideas of know what to write about. So here are a few things you can try even if you don't have a story idea figured out yet.

5. Write something that happened in your day in a narrative format. 

Pick something interesting that happened to you and dramatize that event. Write it out as if it were from a book and you were writing the story. Pretend the people were all fictional characters. If you feel the urge to change it, go for it. You might even write the scene the way you wish events would have happened instead.

6. Write a scene from one of your favorite books or movies. 

Don't copy it from it the book, but think about scenes from stories you love and write them as you remember them. It doesn't have to get it exactly right, and it's actually better if you follow your instincts and play with how that scene unfolded. You can even mix characters and storylines from different source material, such as a battle between Star Wars and Star Trek, or two characters from different TV shows you always thought would be perfect for each other. Plenty of writers have used fanfic to get started, and writing with familiar material can be easier than making it up yourself (just use it to practice on though--remember, you can't use another writer's material in anything you want to publish).

Writing solid fiction takes study and practice, and you'll have to develop your writing skills and start thinking about stories like a writer. But until you get those literary legs under you, there's nothing wrong with writing just to get used to writing. No one starts learning a skill at the master level, so take the time you need to learn the craft and perfect your skills.

If you're new to writing, what questions do you have? Seasoned writers, what advice would you give someone just starting out in writing? 

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing: 

In-depth studies in my Skill Builders series include Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means), and Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It). My Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel. 

A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It), and Understanding Conflict (And What It Really Means).   
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  1. Practise every day, even if only for a few minutes. Think of writing like a muscle that needs both exercise and training!

  2. Definitely butt in the chair and write, write, write. Even if it's in diary form, just get something down. The mechanics can be learned but the desire to write must be trained from the beginning to happen when you're in that chair and be kept fresh every day.

  3. Well, it would be great if you first prepare some major outlines for the fictions that you want to write about and then follow those outlines in writing more and more about those and then at last review what's the most important part and then summarize the outlines.

    1. That works for some people, but not others. Pansters (people who write "by the seat of the pants" and don't plan) are stymied by outlines and it actually steals their creativity. There are all sorts of ways to write. If outlining works for you, use it. If not, look for other ways that do.

  4. As a newbie at this, I'm finding out that all the advise at this post is priceless. I grew up with a family that tells stories based on zany or other "colorized" experiences. But writing an entire novel (or even a story), based on something that came out of my head, is an entirely different animal to learn how to ride. I love this post.

    1. Glad it was helpful! It's a lot to absorb, but take it step by step and learn it at your own pace :)